When you start any conversation about what’s wrong with the music industry today, you’re guaranteed to hear buzzwords such as ‘file sharing’ or ‘booking fees’. Things that people enjoy putting a lot of energy into ranting about. Occasionally, it will cross someone’s mind to say ‘Pop Idol’ or another reference to the plasticised, churned-out rubbish that clutters up what’s left of our charts. And they’d be quite right. To an extent.

What made our music industry great is pop music itself. Not ‘pop’ as the dirty word it’s become today, but on a selection of bands creating catchy melodies and hummable choruses. Pop as in ‘popular’ rather than ‘prolific’. There was a market for all kinds of music throughout the twentieth century, and yet only now are we finding that we have more choice than ever before, but how much of it will we remember?

Record companies have realised the potential for clawing back their financial outgoings through one hit wonders and flavours of the month. Every year we have a new artist touted as ‘the next big thing’, who seemingly comes from nowhere to become the biggest thing since The Beatles, and yet eventually fall into the category of 'Where Are They Now?'. But with this approach to maintaining a balance between commercial success and providing a product that the masses want, have record companies not only doomed us to a monotonous future full of synthed-up aural soma, but caused their own collapse into the bargain?

There are many good reasons for record companies to invest in artists they truly believe will be long-term successes rather than grabbing the instant cash and running. When people started replacing their vinyl with CDs, there was a massive boom in music sales because people had essentially bought two of each record they owned. And this is where having a ‘classic’ or ‘heritage’ artist pays off, because the more of a back catalogue an artist has been allowed to nurture, the more that record company can sell over again when formats inevitably change. Similarly, when the ‘best of’ collections start to appear.

Longevity is a band’s, and their record company’s, greatest asset. Not only do a band create more, and given the right environment create better music, but they actually save the record company money. Eventually, there’s no need for most of the promotion of a new record or tour. When someone says “Zep” to you, you know who they’re talking about. It’s a given. The word goes out, and the fan clubs and music magazines do all the work. The tried-and-trusted loyalty of fans to be the first to go out and buy a new product is guaranteed money in both band and label’s pocket (and yes, sadly every hanger-on on the way.)

It’s a familiar statistic that one out of twelve artists signed to a label will earn enough to exceed the expense of development. It’s a very expensive gamble on the record company’s part. But on the other hand, that one success can pay for the other eleven costly failures and then some. It’s sorting the wheat from the chaff that the music industry has lost the knack for. Finding that occasional artist who will reap the rewards in the long run, not only financially but in terms of memorable music.

Don’t believe me? Try thinking of a modern equivalent for Bob Dylan or Tom Petty. Not just a soundalike, but in terms of what the music is and continues to mean to the fans, and well as the consistent popularity and creation of new music.

Over the last couple of years, the music industry has undergone something of a renaissance. Record companies need to justify their existence more than ever with the increasing popularity of self-production and overnight success of less pop-based acts without being signed, such as the Arctic Monkeys (note that they were eventually signed and have continued a career because of it. Music cannot live on ideals alone.) Consumers, faced with more choice than ever, are becoming more selective about the music they choose, dooming standards like Top of the Pops in favour of finding their own music. And the people are choosing smaller labels, artists who have ‘paid their dues’ and have something interesting to say. Bands such as Foo Fighters, who have the right combination of music industry pedigree and mass appeal, and will most likely prove to be heritage artists in their own right.

So we haven’t completely destroyed our heritage artists, but left it to fate to create them for us. One thing is still certain: our great grandchildren will be coveting a copy of ‘Black Sabbath’ long after the Ting Tings have faded from memory.